It can be just as valuable as a university degree—especially for womenby Catherine Hakim / March 24, 2010 / Leave a comment
Katie Price, aka Jordan, does not owe her astonishing success to university
Michelle and Barack Obama have it. Carla Bruni and David Beckham have it. Jordan has even made a career from it. So great is the advantage “erotic capital” can bring to the labour market—especially in sport, the arts, media and advertising—that it often outweighs educational qualifications.
It’s a term I coined to refer to a nebulous but crucial combination of physical and social attractiveness. Properly understood, erotic capital is what economists call a “personal asset,” ready to take its place alongside economic, cultural, human and social capital. It is just (if not more) as important for social mobility and success.
Erotic capital goes beyond beauty to include sex appeal, charm and social skills, physical fitness and liveliness, sexual competence and skills in self-presentation, such as face-painting, hairstyles, clothing and all the other arts of self-adornment. Most studies capture only one facet of it: photographs measure beauty or sex appeal, psychologists measure confidence and social skills, sex researchers ask about seduction skills and numbers of partners. Yet women have long excelled at such arts: that’s why they tend to be more dressed up than men at parties. They make more effort to develop the “soft skills” of charm, empathy, persuasion, deploying emotional intelligence and “emotional labour.” Indeed, the final element of erotic capital is unique to women: bearing children. In some cultures, fertility is an essential element of women’s erotic power. And even though female fertility is less important in northern Europe (where families are smaller) women’s dominant position in this market has been reinforced in recent decades by a much-lamented phenomenon: the sexualisation of culture.
Since the contraceptive revolution of the 1960s, surveys from around the world reveal a dramatic increase in sexual activities, numbers of partners and varieties of sex. London now hosts an annual Erotica fair, showcasing the new diversity of sexual lifestyles and tastes. World Health Organisation research shows that humans see sexual activity as essential to quality of life—but men still rank sex as more important than women. Indeed, rocketing global demand for sexual activity of all kinds (including commercial sex, autoeroticism and erotic entertainments) has been far more pronounced among men than women. Sex tourism is essentially a male hobby, while erotic magazines for women often fail.
This creates an effect that should be familiar to any economist: the laws of supply and…